* 1. Decay-Fighting Microbes
Bacteria living on teeth convert sugar into lactic acid, which erodes enamel and causes tooth decay. Florida-based company ONI BioPharma has engineered a new bacterial strain, called SMaRT, that cannot produce lactic acid—plus, it releases an antibiotic that kills the natural decay-causing strain. Dentists will only need to swab SMaRT, now in clinical trials, onto teeth once to keep them healthy for a lifetime.
* 2. Artificial Lymph Nodes
Scientists from Japan's RIKEN Institute have developed artificial versions of lymph nodes, organs that produce immune cells for fighting infections. Though they could one day replace diseased nodes, the artificial ones may initially be used as customized immune boosters. Doctors could fill the nodes with cells specifically geared to treat certain conditions, such as cancer or HIV.
* 3. Asthma Sensor
Asthma accounts for a quarter of all emergency room visits in the U.S., but a sensor developed at the University of Pittsburgh may finally cause that number to plummet. Inside the handheld device, a polymer-coated carbon nanotube—100,000 times thinner than a human hair—analyzes breath for minute amounts of nitric oxide, a gas that lungs produce prior to asthma attacks.
* 4. Cancer Spit Test
Forget biopsies—a device designed by researchers at the University of California-Los Angeles detects oral cancer from a single drop of saliva. Proteins that are associated with cancer cells react with dyes on the sensor, emitting fluorescent light that can be detected with a microscope. Engineer Chih-Ming Ho notes that the same principle could be applied to make saliva-based diagnostic tests for many diseases.
* 5. Biological Pacemaker
Electronic pacemakers save lives, but use hardware that eventually wears out. Now, researchers at several universities are developing a batteryless alternative: pacemaker genes expressed in stem cells that are injected into damaged regions of the heart. Better suited for physical exertion, biological pacemakers have been shown to bring slow canine hearts back up to speed without complications.
6. Prosthetic Feedback
One challenge of prosthetic limbs is that they're difficult to monitor. "You and I sense where our limbs are spatially without having to look at them, whereas amputees don't," says Stanford University graduate student Karlin Bark. Skin is sensitive to being stretched—it can detect even small changes in direction and intensity—so Bark is developing a device that stretches an amputee's skin near the prosthesis in ways that provide feedback about the limb's position and movement.
7. Smart Contact Lens
Glaucoma, the second-leading cause of blindness, develops when pressure builds inside the eye and damages retinal cells. Contact lenses developed at the University of California-Davis contain conductive wires that continuously monitor pressure and fluid flow within the eyes of at-risk people. The lenses then relay information to a small device worn by the patient; the device wirelessly transmits it to a computer. This constant data flow will help doctors better understand the causes of the disease. Future lenses may also automatically dispense drugs in response to pressure changes.
8. Speech Restorer
For people who have lost the ability to talk, a new "phonetic speech engine" from Illinois-based Ambient Corporation provides an audible voice. Developed in conjunction with Texas Instruments, the Audeo uses electrodes to detect neuronal signals traveling from the brain to the vocal cords. Patients imagine slowly sounding out words; then the quarter-size device (located in a neck brace) wirelessly transmits those impulses to a computer or cellphone, which produces speech.
9. Absorbable Heart Stent
Stents open arteries that have become narrowed or blocked because of coronary artery disease. Drug-eluting stents release medication that keeps the artery from narrowing again. The bio-absorbable version made by...
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